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Job fair offers ex-felons ‘a brand new start’

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell
 

Derwin “Doc” Martin was in the jobs fair mix last Saturday (Sept. 17) when nearly 3,500 ex-felons and their families turned out for an all-day job event. Derwin “Doc” Martin was in the jobs fair mix last Saturday (Sept. 17) when nearly 3,500 ex-felons and their families turned out for an all-day job event. He was not there seeking help, but rather to lend a helping hand to those enduring “life after the felony.”

 
Nearly 3,500 hopefuls showed up last Saturday at a job fair for ex-felons. Derwin Martin – an ex-offender – came out to help those in need of the kind of second-chance help he received earlier. (Photos by Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Now on the evangelism team of the Healing Center, the host sponsor for the jobs fair, Martin considers himself “blessed” to have landed a job he can grow in.

“Someone was willing to give me a second chance. I want to be a good father and support my children…. Now it’s time for me to be about it,” he said.

The job fair – organized by State Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) offered leads for employment opportunities, help with child support, expunging of criminals records, and assistance with regaining the right to vote.

“We wanted to address the issues that stand in the way of released, ex-offenders making a fresh new start. I knew there was a great need. I figured two or three hundred to show up,” said Camper. “I had no idea of how much people are struggling to begin again.”

Much more than securing gainful employment, many took away hope for a brand new beginning.

“That’s the thing you can’t buy – hope,” said one attendee. “After applying everywhere you can think of and you see they don’t want (you) because of your record, you lose hope. You don’t think you’ll ever work again. You lose hope. Today was a good day. I’m glad I came.”

 
 Volunteers from the host sponsor, The Memphis Healing Center, registered thousands into a state computer base to begin the process of expungement and a brand new start. From left are: LeAnn Bowen, Fred Hardiman and Sharon Richmond.

 
 State Rep. Karen Camper (left) deserves praise for the sorely jobs fair program, said Dr. William M. Young Sr. (right), founding pastor and bishop of The Healing Center Ministries.

Martin shares his story in the context of hope and as “testimony to what God can do; how He can change a person. I want people to know that no matter what they’ve done and how bad they think they are, God still loves and cares about them.”

Martin said he felt that he would have been the last person to commit a felony.

“I was living with my girlfriend, and she had two teenage daughters. When they got older – 15 and 18 – I began to notice that they were dressing provocatively. When I started having trouble in my relationship with their mother, I became involved in a sexual relationship with them,” he said.

“After about a year, I stopped having sex with them. I knew it was wrong, but I just got caught up in that whole thing. When the older daughter told me she was going to tell her mother, I encouraged her to do it, although I knew what the outcome would be. It was right for her mother to know. I never wanted either of those girls to think it was their fault. I took full responsibility for my actions. I went to jail.”

It took a long time to start over, and in some ways he still is starting over, Martin said.

“I’m excited about what’s happening today for these other men and women,” said Martin, referring to those who turned out for assistance at the jobs fair. “I know what they are going through. God helped me to secure gainful employment, but I was always turned away, although I was over-qualified for many positions I applied for.

“My offense occurred years ago, but most companies send the message that you are worthless and unemployable because of what you did in the past,” said Martin. “Maybe we are guilty of committing felonies in our past life, but nobody will let us start over. People can change, and the Lord is the reason why. I’m not the same man I was back there. It doesn’t matter. We must continue to pay for what we did although we are no longer incarcerated.”

Ex-offenders, said Martin, have restitution to pay, child support to catch up on, and are in need of a place to live.

“We have dreams for ourselves and our children. We need jobs to support our families. Many of us want to go back to school – to learn a trade or start a new career. But we can’t pay for school because no one wants to hire an ex-felon.”

Tanya’s story

“I have three children. I went to jail because I was there with my baby’s daddy when he robbed a convenience store with two other guys. If a weapon is used in the commission of a robbery – even if only one person has a gun – the law treats you as if everyone had a gun. I was just driving the car,” said Tanya, who asked that her full name not be used.

“I almost got as much time as they did. I was released last summer, and all this time I’ve tried to find work. Cleaning rooms in a hotel or washing dishes in a restaurant. I have applied to so many places but I have never once been called back. It’s like I’m out of prison, but I’m still serving time.”

The opportunity that the jobs fair offered to begin the process of expunging her record, seemed like something too good to be true, said Tanya.

“I brought my children out so they can see that momma is doing everything she can to try to care for them. They ate hot dogs and ran around with the other children who came with their families. We had a good day.”

‘The work of the church’

“State Rep. Camper is to be applauded for this tremendous program,” said Dr. William M. Young Sr., founding pastor and bishop of The Healing Center Ministries.

“The Oakhaven community and other areas around our city are on the decline because of the pervasive crime problem among our young people. Many of them have criminal records. We need employers to step up and give these young people a second chance.”

Guiding ex-offenders through the process of expunging a felony goes a long way in reaching out with compassionate ministry, said Young.

“We need to carry the message that even if some people aren’t willing to give them a second chance, Jesus always will,” he said.

“The job fair is ministry in action. The church of Jesus Christ can’t get so wrapped up in ‘church work’ that we forget the real work of the church – evangelism,” said Young. “Pointing people to Jesus – this is our duty.”

Still not too late

Registration for services being offered to ex-offenders is still available. If you or someone you know is in need of record expunging and job assistance, call The Healing Center church office at 901-370-HOPE (4673).

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